It would be hard to exaggerate what a great feeling it is to be back in Parliament - re-elected for the constituency I love, and with no reduction in the number of people voting for me. (Phew!) But even more important, it is the first time in my Parliamentary lifetime that we have been in power and with a worthwhile workmanlike majority. The other parties (bar the SNP) are in disarray and will stay that way for some time. It is not for us to pry into their private grief.
As that great Conservative thinker, Macleod said “The Socialists may dream their dreams, and the Liberals may scheme their schemes, but WE have work to do. And it started this week with a large and rich and challenging Queens Speech, and then with a huge majority for the Brexit Bill. We have the mandate of the people- of al kinds of people from all over Britain- and we will now deliver on our promise with regard to Brexit (by 31 January) and then with regard to a wide and radical set of domestic proposals.
Its going to be very hard work. I will be chairing Bill Committees, starting with the massive Environment Bill, which will take up a great deal of time. I am continuing, and hope to develop further, my interest in the Armed Forces, security and defence, which of course are both constituency and personal interests; and I hope to play my part in restoring the public’s faith in Parliament and the Constitution, and in running the House of Commons itself. It is so good to know that in those and so many other ways we will at last be able to do stuff. Parliament has been in gridlock- dither, delay, destruct- for three years. Now at last we can really get on with the things the people voted for.
For now, we are just glad to be back. Back representing the people of North Wiltshire, and back helpng to support a Government with a challenging agenda ahead of it, but for once with the majority necessary to get things done.
So I wish you all a Very happy Christmas and New Year, and can do little better than leave you with the mellow baritone of the Attorney General, Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC MP reading ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. It is well worth a listen!
Thank you to the voters of North Wiltshire for renewing your faith in me and your support for me. 32,373 people voted Conservative, 25 votes fewer than in 2017, but still 59% of all of those who voted. The majority in numbers went down a bit to a pretty healthy 18,000, because Labour lost about 3700 votes which largely transferred to the Liberal Democrats. They scored 27%, and Labour 10%. (I remain puzzled by the Lib Dems absurd Bar Chart campaigning method. – You remember: ‘Only the Lib Dems can beat James Gray here. Recent polling shows we are only 4% behind Gray.’ Wrong by a factor of 10.
Thank you too to my magnificent campaign team, so ably led by Nick Botterill and Ashley O’Neill. We touched every corner of North Wiltshire, as I believe it is my duty (and pleasure) to do. But we also found some time to help in Cheltenham (where we held off a tough Lib Dem challenge) and especially Stroud (which we won) as a contribution towards Boris Johnson’s great overall victory. We also lent a hand, although in the event they probably did not need it, in Thornbury and Yate, and Chippenham. A particular vote of thanks is due to my wife, Philippa, who has been central to the campaign, on the road every single day, but has also kept every aspect of the domestic agenda running.
On a side note, we do not want to create any littering of the countryside and will be taking down all Conservative posters used during the campaign. However, if anyone sees any posters that we may have missed please do either just take them down or let me know and we will ensure that they are removed.
In return for your votes, I renew my pledge to all of you to do what I can to serve the people of North Wiltshire; people from every corner of it, people of every kind, and people of every political persuasion and none. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. But you can be certain that every single thing I do and say, every single vote I cast will be for the benefit of the people of this great area as a whole.
That, I think, matches the Conservative Party’s pledge to swathes of Labour voters, especially in the Midlands and North of England who have ‘lent’ us their vote. They wanted to see Brexit done, and they could not stand their hapless Leader. We will now do all we can to repay their trust, and do so in spades. The Conservative Party has throughout history been the party of every class and area of Britain. Our strength was traditionally in the great cities. And so it must be again. The superb victory we won last Thursday – a clear majority of 80 seats, and getting on for double the number of Labour MPs, gives us the strength to drive forward our domestic agenda- the NHS, schools, roads, the environment, the public services, defence, in the way we promised during the Campaign. The Government looks set to hit the ground running in so many of those areas, barely taking a day or two off for Christmas.
The people have given us their trust and their votes. We must now repay that by delivering what they wanted and what we promised. You can be certain that we will.
When you come to cast your vote on 12 December a mass of conflicting thoughts will no doubt be swirling through your brain. To some, this election will be all about Brexit. To others, it will be about who runs Britain- our schools and hospitals, our economy, our foreign affairs and defence and so much more. It may be about the personality of the two Prime Ministerial contenders - Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. To some (I hope) it may be rest on the personality of the local candidate.
Well let me try to help clarify your thinking. First and foremost, I am standing as your long-serving and hardworking local MP, wholly committed to serving the interests and the people of North Wiltshire. And I hope that I am right that even those of a different political persuasion to me would readily accept my claim to be a constituency MP above all else.
Second, I am a Conservative; and if re-elected I will help form a Conservative majority government. That has huge merit in its own right - Boris has announced a whole string of bold and innovative policies. 20,000 more police on our streets; up to 40 new hospitals and more spent on the NHS than ever before; equalisation of state grants for schools, which will greatly benefit Wiltshire. It is only because of the careful Conservative stewardship of our economy since 2010 that we can now afford such welcome increases in spending. I would view it as one of the greatest catastrophes imaginable if a hard left Government run by Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonell and Diane Abbott were to put jobs and livelihoods at risk and be allowed to wreck the economy again.
Third. Let’s be clear. A vote for any of the minority parties, or independent candidates, is in effect a vote for Jeremy Corbyn. In marginal seats, and even here in North Wiltshire, a vote for the Brexit Party, the Lib Dems or the Greens, risks a Labour victory. The Lib-Dems in particular might well form a pact with Labour in order to get power. This is a generational battle between freedom loving Tories and hard left Labour. We cannot risk a Jeremy Corbyn government, which might well be the result of a vote for any party other than the Conservatives.
Fourth, as someone who has supported leaving the EU for a long time, an incoming majority Conservative Government will enable Brexit to be finally delivered, which is what 17.4 Million people voted for. There is much that is wrong with the Deal which the PM was able to negotiate with the EU. But it is the only means by which we can leave the EU, and we must now join hands in supporting it. I do very much respect the opinions of those who were opposed to leaving the EU. They have a great many sensible views, which we must take into account. Most of them would agree, nonetheless, that we could not now go back cap in hand to the EU and ask to be readmitted. What a humiliation that would be. Most sensible Remainers would agree that the outcome of the Referendum demands that we must now leave, even if they themselves have reservations about it.
I have an old election leaflet from my predecessor Captain Cazalet (MP 1923-1942) which reads: “Your support is asked for Captain Cazalet. The Conservative Candidate. The Man you know. No wild promises, but a record of performance and a policy of steady progress.”100 years on, that message still rings true. I am offering no wild promises but steady progress. A common-sense Conservative majority government which will lead our country forward to a new solid, bright future having left the EU; a block on the designs of Jeremy Corbyn with his extreme policies, but above all a record of hard work for and commitment to the people of North Wiltshire, and a promise to go on doing just that.
Being a local candidate in a General Election must be rather like being a private soldier in the front line in some old-fashioned war. The very great and good rush around doing press conferences, touring factories, TV leaders’ hustings and all the rest of the paraphernalia which seems to go with modern elections. And I suppose that the very clever people in Conservative Central Office must know what they are doing.
Now Parliament has been dissolved, and the North Wiltshire Campaign is underway, I get a very pleasant feeling of being able to leave all that national stuff to them, and just focus on my own patch - every corner of which I know and love. Its all about posters (very important in my view - let me know if you have a good site in your front garden or elsewhere, and one will be dropped off to you); its about leaflets galore – hand delivered or via Freepost; it’s about knocking on thousands of doors to get a feel for what my constituents are thinking; it’s about visibility, walkabouts, and so much more. Once its underway its all good fun, and if you want to volunteer any kind of help, let me know.
I always take campaigning in North Wiltshire very seriously and fight for every vote. That seems to me to be my job, and my constitutional and democratic duty. So I take every letter and email and doorstep conversation deeply seriously. Yet North Wiltshire has never been at the cutting edge of party politics. I like to think of myself as the MP for all - of whatever party-political persuasion, or none. I have never thought that ‘everything the Conservatives do and say is good’, ‘everything Labour do and say is bad’. Most of politics is much more consensual than that; and I admire the strength of conviction of many Labour and Green politicians, albeit disagreeing with many of their conclusions.
The Lib Dems, by contrast, tend to be a bit lacking in the conviction stakes, and always have a distressing tendency to personalise everything. “Winning Here” has always seemed to me to be a pretty worthless, and nearly always misleading, boast. Their bar charts and bogus polls have recently been exposed in the national press. The reality is that 32,398 people voted Conservative at the last election, or 60.3% of the votes cast, a majority of 22,877 over Lib Dems and Labour who were more or less evenly placed with 17.7% and 17.5% of the vote respectively.
Of the 32,398 who voted for me, I like to think that quite a few voted for me as a hardworking local MP; but I am fully aware that most of them voted to get a Conservative Government. And I hope they will do so again. It will be either that or a hard-left Labour one, and a vote for any other minority party risks letting Mr Corbyn into No 10 by the back door.
I will be keeping up these circular emails at least once a week during the campaign. I recognise that they go to a variety of people who are not Conservatives. They will just have to put up with a bit of party-political stuff over this crucial election, and look forward to a more consensual approach thereafter. After all, if you don’t like it, you can always hit the ‘delete’ button.
With all best wishes for a peaceful and civilised campaign.
Was it vaguely flattering to be called to speak in the House of Commons this week by Mr Speaker Bercow as “James Gray, a sort of Gandalf figure”? He was (unwittingly perhaps) accurate, since in the Hobbit, Gandalf is known as ‘Gandalf the grey.’ But I will graciously accept the intended accolade and its hints of aged wisdom and great leadership, with all due modesty, and without speculating as to whether the soon-to-depart Speaker is himself a bit of a Gollum?
For having secured a Deal, (which to the purist Brexiteer may be less than perfect, but not as bad as Theresa May’s), our Frodo Baggins Prime Minister was all set to have it approved at the special sitting of the House last Saturday, and to press ahead with it this week. But Gollum then allowed Sir Orc Letwin to scupper that idea with a Remainer amendment. Undeterred, Frodo secured a general acceptance of the Withdrawal Bill at Second Reading by a handsome majority of 30, only to have the essential timetabling which would allow it to become law frustrated by the Orcs. (Enough Hobbit references, ed.)
So as I write there is a great debate at the heart of government. The bolder element would have us declare an end to it all with an immediate General Election. They argue that even if we gave Labour more time to scrutinise the Bill, the risk is that they would wreck it by amendments, and/or delay it even further. “Labour are in disarray”, they would argue, “but they might get themselves sorted out if we give them time to do so.”
The more cautious wing of Prime Ministerial advisers urge caution. “We have got a reasonable Deal; you got a record majority at Second Reading of the Bill, so let’s now find time to debate it in full even if that means a few weeks’ extension to the 31 October deadline for Brexit. If the Remainers really do try to wreck the Bill, that’s the time when we can go to the people and ask for their endorsement.”
It’s the old debate - weighing up the merits of urgent and dramatic action against caution, reason and steadiness under fire. I personally also feel uneasy about some of the logistics surrounding an Election on 12 December - problems with the new Electoral Register, closeness to Christmas, poor weather are but a few of them.
So Gandalf Gray calls on the PM to celebrate having got as far as we have with his deal and Parliamentary approval of it; allow, however, as much more time as may be needed for proper consideration of the detail of the Bill, while always reserving the right to pull it if its opponents seek to wreck it. That would secure Brexit, and Frodo Johnson could then then go to the Country for approval of it in the Spring.
The Quest of the Ring may otherwise start to look like a piece of cake by comparison with getting Brexit over the line.
© 2019 Promoted by Nick Botterill, on behalf of James Gray, both of North Wiltshire Conservatives, 12 Brown Street, Salisbury SP1 1HE.